Thursday, February 23, 2012

A Magical Night in Napa Valley

Master Sommelier Gilles de Chambure  and Peter Mondavi Sr.
A chance meeting at lunch with Kelli White, who will be featured prominently in the future of the wine business, prompted an invitation to dinner last night at Press in St. Helena. While here, for the Symposium for Wine Writers at Meadowood, we had a free night and had wanted to go to the restaurant anyway. Kelli told us they were showcasing the new wine cellar, which exclusively features Napa wines, and opening up a few bottles of old wine. The wine gods were calling.

Look, over the years I get invited to all kinds of wine events. Bordeaux, New York, Chicago, California, Italy, many times over. What happened last night was simply unreal. It doesn’t happen. But it did. And this remedial expat and slave to the wine gods was rewarded for many years of effort. That would be if I were the center of the universe. But I’m not. We just happened to get real lucky.

Leslie Rudd and his best friend's brother
As we arrived at Press, we were met by Kelli and her beau, Scott Brenner, co-sommeliers of the restaurant. Owned by Leslie Rudd of Rudd Estate and Dean & Deluca fame, he reserved the restaurant for a long list of Napa Valley wine luminaries, many of which are seminal to the history of the Valley. Winnarski, Phelps, Mondavi, Heitz, McCrea, Togni, Martini, Kongsgaard. Rombauer and on. How did we get invited?

Just the beginning
I saw the list of wines that were being shown, ’66 Inglenook Cabernet, ’74 Martini Cabernet, ’74 School House Pinot Noir, ’77 Stony Hill Chardonnay, ’78 Ridge Montebello ( the only non-Napa wine?), ’74 Mondavi Cabernet, ’64 Charles Krug Cabernet, ’78 Heitz Martha’s, ‘91 Dunn Howell Mtn, ’85 Diamond Creek Gravelly Meadow, ’74 Caymus Cabernet, and on. What vortex did we slip into?

Bill Phelps and a very young (97) Peter Mondavi Sr.
Seated at our table, Bill Phelps and Peter Mondavi were also in our party. Peter, now 97, like my mom, was lit up. “Where did they get all those old wines? Look at the alcohol, do you see, 12%.” He was ready for tonight. And I was ringside at his table. Folks came to the table and poured him their other wines; it just kept getting better and better. Like I said, I go to many events. This was off the charts. One of the top wine experiences I have ever had in California - in my life. The odd thing was that I have worked for years selling these wines. These are part of my history. The Krug ’74 F1, The Heitz ’74 Martha’s, the Dunn Howell Mountain, the Martini Cabernet. I was, and still am, in the trenches, presenting, weaving stories, telling about the ‘77’s, the ‘85’s, the ‘92’s to the clients , sommeliers and salespeople who are looking at the ‘07’s, ‘08’s and ‘09’s.

Warren Winnarski waxed mystically over aged wines
Peter’s daughter-in-law, Janice, was the icing on the cake. Smart, savvy, engaged, her father-in-law at her side. Good chemistry between them. I started regretting leaving California 30+ years ago last night. Felt more like the prodigal son than just a lucky son of a gun.

Peter Mondavi Sr and sister-in-law Margrit
But everyone has their destiny. And some of us are part of a bigger plan. Suffice to say, I am forever grateful that the wine powers that be from time to time reward me with evenings like last night. To sit with Peter Mondavi Sr, and speak in Italian and talk about Napa and the Marche, his ancestral region, it is priceless. Like winning the lottery. I am a child of Italy and California and my countries of origin remember to draw me back from time to time and recharge my vinous soul. And I am left dumbstruck and speechless with only two words.

Thank you.


Wine Curmudgeon said...

This is the kind of thing that makes wine so much fun, no?

How was that Ridge?

Patrick Moore said...

I know how you feel Alfonso! There is something magical about being in Napa and being trated to something that not many people get to experience. As a proud Glazers alum some 4 years ago, myself and 5 others got to go to Napa. We stayed at the Rutherford house which was a 12,000sf Arts & Crafts manse from the 1920's.We visited lots of great wineries but the highlight was at Robert Mondavi. We went out into the Beckstoffer vineyards and saw 80year old Sauvignon Blanc vines. We were given a tour of the winery where we got to taste new blends not yet bottled and then opened 74 Rsv Cabernet with our gourmet meal. Then I ended the night in my bedroom sipping on a magnum of 2001 BV GDLT staring out my window at the moonlit Mayacaymus. Memories to last a lifetime!!!

Winethropology said...

WOW. I, too, am speechless. (And jealous.)

Have a terrific week out there, Alfonso!

Alfonso Cevola said...

thanks, all...

the Ridge, the only non Napa wine, was off the charts.. The 70's wines were where I cut my teeth so this was like going back in time...

Neilesh Patel (Food Lover) said...

I really like some of your posts…will bookmark your blog.

- Neilesh

Christina Coussoulis said...

I am thrilled that you were the recipient of the hospitality and generosity of our dear friend Leslie friend. He is truly a renaissance man yet humble and quiet-unassuming. our regard to you Leslie and Suzy!orptiew Eurpreme

Do Bianchi said...

Any old Charbono on this trip? Amazing post...

Amy @ VineSleuth Uncorked said...

Sounds absolutely amazing!
And I love your honestly and grateful emotions. Perfect!

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